Iconic & Problematic: “Fatal Attraction” (1987) starring Michael Douglas & Glenn Close

Erotic thriller (perhaps a guilty pleasure for some of us in quarantine life) is a subgenre of film which is defined as a thriller w/ illicit romance or erotic fantasy. Most erotic thrillers contain scenes of sex and nudity (though the frequency and explicitness varies). Erotic thrillers emerged as a distinct genre in the late 1980s, as a result of the success of this film. As some critics/viewers have noted, erotic thrillers are connected to film noir of the 1940s and ’50s which explored the dark side of life in post-WWII America.

A one-night fling, with no strings attached. That’s what she said. That’s what he believed. -A tag line for the film

Most of you already know the plot, as Fatal Attraction is considered iconic, yet problematic (when viewed by our modern eyes). Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) is a successful NYC attorney, and on a weekend when his wife and daughter are away from home at his in-laws’ house, he has a work meeting that includes Alex Forrest (Glenn Close), an editor for a publishing company. This leads to a drink at a bar, and that leads to a passionate one night stand that turns into a weekend when Alex attempts suicide when Dan tries to leave. Dan thinks it’s over, as Alex has seemed to come to her senses. Suddenly, Alex tells him she is pregnant, and she is having this baby b/c (at age 36) it may be her last chance. Dan insists he isn’t leaving his wife for her and that he doesn’t love her; he is feeling indifferent (not hating her). Alex stalks Dan and gradually turns up the heat until his family is at risk!

Alex Forrest: [to Dan] Well, what am I supposed to do? You won’t answer my calls, you change your number. I mean, I’m not gonna be ignored, Dan!

I was surprised how good the film actually was; it’s an intense stalker-drama. The three lead actors (Douglas, Close, and Anne Archer as the wife) do a great job. Douglas was also working on Wall Street (1987) at the same time. When Close’s agent first called to express her interest in playing Alex Forrest, he was told, “Please don’t make her come in. She’s completely wrong for the part.” Director Adrian Lyne also thought that she was “the last person on Earth” who should play the role. I was impressed by Close, esp. in the first act of the movie; she plays it sophisticated, cool, and has obvious chemistry w/ Douglas. Of course, her transformation to stalker later is scary. The white dress she wears at the end of the movie resembles a straightjacket. Kirstie Alley, who was under consideration for the role of Alex, provided a tape of a woman who had been stalking her then-husband, actor Parker Stevenson, in which she was begging to be part of his life. The woman’s exact words were used for the tape Alex sends to Dan in the film- wow!

I would read that script totally differently. The astounding thing was that in my research for Fatal Attraction, I talked to two psychiatrists. Never did a mental disorder come up. Never did the possibility of that come up. That, of course, would be the first thing I would think of now. -Close in a 2013 CBS News interview

During the Trump era, SNL did a parody of it w/ actors playing WH advisor Kellyanne Conway and CNN reporter Jake Tapper. Though many enjoyed it, others were offended by how Conway was portrayed. There are elements in this movie that are outdated; recall Alex’s line re: her not likely to have another baby (she is only aged 36). The filmmakers also skip over the mental health issue- yikes! The original ending was changed (b/c preview audiences hated it), though it sounds a lot more interesting. The ending we see is quite brutal; at one point, Close suffered a concussion and was rushed to the E.R. While examining her, doctors discovered that she was several weeks pregnant w/ her daughter! A young female comedian recently commented that Alex needed therapy and also some girlfriends who supported her- quite valid points. I’ve been listening this Summer to a podcast focused on the erotic thriller genre (Fatal Attractions) hosted by UK and French cinephiles.

[1] Glenn Close who had only played the nice girl roles blew everyone’s mind when she played Alex Forrest. What passion she put into the role and part of you couldn’t really hate her. She brings up a great point to Dan “Because I won’t allow you to treat me like some slut you can just bang a couple of times and throw in the garbage?” Your heart does break for her, but at the same time you want to scream at her to let go of Dan and not hurt his family. Michael Douglas as Dan plays the role extremely well. He gives Dan a sense of realism, he’s not a major jerk… Ann Archer as Beth was not only beautiful, classy, but incredibly intelligent. She makes Beth so real…

[2] Aside from the moral problems of adultery, doesn’t Alex have a point ? Isn’t she entitled to something besides simply being used for a night or two? The tension in this film is constant, although a lot of it seems too easily foreshadowed.

[3] The impact and influence of this great box office success has continued to be significantly stronger than would normally be expected, as it has successfully maintained its popularity over the years and even been responsible for the term “bunny boiler” becoming a universally recognised part of the language.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

3 thoughts on “Iconic & Problematic: “Fatal Attraction” (1987) starring Michael Douglas & Glenn Close

  1. That was a really hot phase of her career (Dangerous Liaisons, where she is chilling, and also Reversal of Fortune, which I remember thinking at the time was an excellent film). Still, this film upset me when I saw it — bad dreams — and I wouldn’t see it again. The thing I resent about it most in retrospect is the way in which it contributes to this current dynamic in our culture where if a woman expresses any emotion that makes others uncomfortable she is assumed to be deragend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, some critics (few yrs older than myself) said this was the conservative time of Reagan, so we have to factor that in. I’m sure it was scary for lotta ppl, incl. younger audiences (esp. the ending)! I liked the little daughter- her acting was V natural IMO. Some ppl were V offended that Dan took the family dog to meet Alex- which made him a bigger jerk!

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      • yeah, it was the end of the Reagan years. Although I think that insight maybe overstates Reagan’s influence, there definitely was a backlash in those years against feminism and female desire / emotions. It’s maybe more the backlash against the 70s that’s at work in this film than the Reagan influence specifically.

        I don’t think that rabbit scene would fly today.

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